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Jizan - Farasan Islands February 2023

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

22nd of February is foundation day in Saudi Arabia. We got Wednesday 22 and Thursday 23 off, making a 4 days long weekend. A good opportunity to consider a trip to Farasan, which requires taking a ferry.

Tuesday 21st, I left the office a bit earlier than usual, around 15:30. Load the luggage in the car, that Samantha has prepared the day before, and we are all set to leave at 16:00.

On the way down from the escarpment, on the Abha Jizan Road, the temperature at 18 on top, quickly raise to 28-30, as we go down.

Quick stop in Al Darb to buy some grilled corn 🌽, 5 SAR per piece.

Around 18:40, after 2 hours and 40 minutes drive, we reached Jizan corniche, and went straight to Farasan Island ticket center to check our reservations for the ferry. 2 days before I gave a call to a local guy, named Muhamad, who was recommended to me by Faris, one member of KAUST beacon, doing biodiversity survey for us in Soudah. Muhanad booked us tickets for 4 passengers to go to and come back from Farasan, but the tickets for the car were on waiting list. Tickets for the ferry are free, but have to be booked at least one day in advance. It doesn't seem possible to book them online, but having it done by some contacts works.

The lady in ticket office confirmed our booking for the car and advised us to go to the ferry at 13:00, while departure is planned at 15:30.

We then went to take our room in Novotel, just 1 km away. Novotel is facing the corniche and provides nice view on the Red Sea.

2 restaurants are inside, a seafood / Italian restaurant. The previously called "Opera" restaurant on mezanine floor has been joint to the seafood restaurant. And another one on ground floor serves Arabic style food.

We however walked 2-300m on the south side of the hotel along the corniche, up to another seafood restaurant, not cheap but fresh and good food. The view was potentially nice, but by night not much to see on the sea side...

A quick look at an attractions park just beside the restaurant. Quite old, but still OK, although was not of the taste of Sam or Abel, who were not tempted to try any games. So we headed back to our bedroom.

Wednesday 22nd. Woke up around 6:30, and went to Jizan heritage ponds and corniche Park.

The water level was lower than the previous times I visited the place, but there was still a good diversity of birds, although no special herons, as I would have hoped (Black-headed Heron for instance). Two Abdim storks passed in flight. Surprisingly, I didn't hear any Acrocephalus singing in the mangroves...

Then, I continued the road to the south, along the mangroves and mudflats up to Jizan Water Treatment Plant.

Very few flamingoes were present, only 17 greater Flamingoes, and not a single lesser flamingo. Wondering, if they have left the area, or were just absent for few hours, foraging in another area, or this is too early in the season, as they are not breeding yet...otherwise large numbers of black-winged stilts and ruff, few avocets...

I came back to Novotel by 9:30 to take breakfast with Sam , Abel and Mar.

Check-out at 13:00, direction the Jizan ferry port. Policeman confirmed our tickets and showed us the way where to wait with the car. 1 hour to wait, since boarding of cars starts at 14:00. Cars wait in 2 lines. At 14:00, they start letting the right line move, bad luck I was on the left line. A bit surprised and upset on the way to proceed. At the end, cars at the end of the right line arrived far later than I did, but got boarded before.

Only drivers can enter the ferry in the car, all passengers are required to go by foot.

Before the final boarding on the ferry, all drivers have to go out of the cars and a truck equipped with X-Ray, scan all cars in line.

Then, we are allowed to drive the car in the ferry, that can take 40 to 45 cars.

Sam, Abel and Mar are already sitting in, but no free space near the windows.

During the crossing, no access are provided outside the main cabin, separated between men section, women section and family.

Only way for birding is through the dirty windows, on the side, or at the back. I choose the back. Some gulls and terns enjoy flying in the track of the ferry.

A group of Lesser crested terns followed us from the departure in Juzan. Brown boobies were sitting by pairs or 3-4 on the dyke at the exit of Jizan Harbour and on all buoys encountered on the way. The biggest number was on the rocky shores while approaching Farasan Harbour, where they were sitting, apparently on nest.

Landing went pretty quickly and smoothly.

Quick stop along the first mangrove, where a heron pretend to have not been seen. I had a hope for a Goliath Heron, but it turned out to be a Purple Heron.

From the harbour, we went to an heritage village, where local fishermen used to leave, probably up to not that long g ago. The heritage village is nicely restaured, and provides access inside several houses, where ancient furniture and tools are exposed. Houses are build from the coral rocks, thay constitute the whole Farasan Island, a mix of old corals,and shells.

Before sunset, we took some tracks towards the west, hoping to reach the beach for sunset. But the track is quite bad, not allowing to go quick, and we ended up to a fence, that prevent us going further west. However, the area was nice to see some Mountain Gazelles, few small groups of 4-5 , and another one of about 10 Gazelles.

A ranger quickly joined us, informing us, that we need authorisation from NCW office...anyway, he was nice and showed us some few more Gazelles.

On the say back, received a rare bird alert on Saudi birding whatsapp group, that 4 wattled starlings have been spotted in Either mangroves, a site about 30km northern from Jizan. A good call for Saturday morning before heading back to Abha.

At sunset, we headed back to the town to take our furnished apartment in Saray Bukqays, 2 bedrooms, living room, kitchen and bathroom...quote spacious.

Ended the day by another seafood restaurant, much cheaper than in Jizan, but also very good.

Thursday 23rd. I woke up not too late, but not that early. Left the apartment around 6:30 to go birding a couple of hour. I went first to Maadi bridge, then turn a small road going north to the brdige, between the ones to Maadi bridge and the one to Hesais beach. last stop to quickly check what Hesais beach look like, and I turn back to the apartment by 9. Sam & I took breakfast at the coffee shop downstairs of the apartment. they had good coffee, which was a nice surprise, and few donuts, muffins and cookies.

Around 10, we all together took the road. First stop at the National Wildlife Center camp., trying to get some information, where to go, how to get a small boat. Rangers present didn't speak engliash, iit was diffficult to communicate. They suggested me to come back at 16:00, when their manager Mr Essa would be there. I tried to contact Abu Abdullah, a contact given to me by Faris, who could propose boat tour. I receive partial answer by Whatsapp, asking me what time I would like to make a boat tour, then no more replies...

Having decided to leave on friday by the earliest boat, and not the one from late afternoon, to have chance to try to see the Wattled starlings that have been spotted the day before by english birder, and for Sam to have tmtime shopping in Jizan, we went to the ferry departure to change our tickets....At the ferry , everything was closed, and the cleaners told us that ticketing is done in town.

BAck in town, at the right office, the computer system was down, impossible to change the ticket, but we could come back a bit later.

Having some time, we drove to the western side of Farasan kabir, up to Sair village, continue few kilometers further west after the village to reach a lovely fishing port in a small bay. Just the time to take few pictures, and 2 coast guards, in a house nearby, realized our presence, and told us that we could not stay or take any pictures...too late!

In Sair village, we found a small grocery to buy soft drinks and biscuits, and 1 km east of the village, we took a track going south. which brought us to a nice lagoon. the color of the water was amazingly azure. Sadly, some development, to apparently create a small harbor, is on-going.

Then heading back to Farasan village, where we looked for a restaurant. Not that easy task...several small restaurants were closed, apparently permanently. We made a visit to a beach resort, called Farasan Park, where they apparently do not serve meals. Back in town, we finally find a small restaurant open, with many drawings of pizza on the wall, but they didn't had pizza, so we ordered chicken and rice.

A second visit, at the ticketing office, the system was still down...

We turned back to Maadi bridge. From a small dyke going east just before the bridge, we had the superb view of a Goliath Heron, a species I had been looking for , for a while in Saudi Arabia.

An hour before sunset, we turned back to Dana park, next to Farasan park, a beach on the south of Farasan, as we had promised to Abel to bring him to the slide. We rented him a small electric car for 20 min.

18:45, we turned a third time to the ticketing office,15 min before it closes, but the system was still down. They just told us, come tomorrow at 5:30 to take the boat leaving at 7.

We ended the day, buying a pizza to take away.

Friday 24th: woke up 4:30. to leave the apartment at 5:00, and to be at the ferry departure for 5:30. There was again 2 lines of cars to board the ferry, but this time, I got some explanations: one line is for confirmed booking, while the other is for the waiting list. We boarded without difficulties and the ferry left on-time at 7:00, reaching Jizan around 8:30. En route, the visibility was way better than 2 days before. There was still a good number of Brown Boobies, terns and gulls, and I managed to see 3-4 Common noddy, and 1 arctic skua.

In Jizan, we bought a bit of food, and took the road directly to Either mangrove and park, 40-50 min drive north of Jizan. Walking around the Either park took me 10-15 minutes, inspecting all lawns , bushes and trees to locate the Wattled Starling. Having turn all around the park, I started to desperate, there was only 1 tree left that I didn't check, and just while I was approaching the tree, I spotted 3-4 birds, flying away, the size of a starling, with a whitish rump. Those were them, the Wattled Starlings.

Another species was on my target list for the day, the White-collared kingfisher, reported from the mangrove nearby. I let Abel playing in the park, under the surveillance of Samantha and MAr, and walked towards the mangroves. I had been informed on the Whatsapp Saudi Birding Group, that coast guards, who have their basecamp at the start of the dyke, that led to the mangrove, might forbid people to access. On a friday end of morning, at the prayer time, I was safe to venture without encountering anybody. No kingfishers showed off, neither any Abyssinian White-Eye of the specific mangrove populations, that had be thought for time to possibly formed a separate species.

After an hour looking, I picked up the family and we headed back to Jizan, going to our hotel for check-in. Al Maali hotel

Beginning of afternoon, I drove alone, this time to Al Harjariah farms.

This area, densely vegetated, with alternance of open fields, dense thickets, papayas plantations, corn fields, is rich in birds. Of interest was a Gabar Goshawk and an Oriental Honey-buzzard. I left the farms around 16:00, it was still possibly to early to see the Hypocolius,, that have been reported a day before, and that we also saw last year during our visit with Oscar Campbell and Tedd Burkett.

One more hour drive and I reached Al Saad lake, also called Jizan dam lake.

I only went to western side of the lake, with the sun behind me, providing a good light to observe the birds. Interesting checklist, that added me 6 or 7 species to my Yearlist

Before sunset, I headed back to Jizan hotel, where Samantha was waiting for me to go in town, shopping and eating.

Saturday 25th: After a correct but not amazing breakfast, we checked out our hotel, and went to the fish and vegetables market. The fishes there are very fresh and much less expensive than in Abha. We bought 2 small tuna, 2 small red groupers, 2 kg of shrimps, 1 kg of squids, and 5kg of tomatoes, plus many different types of fruits and vegetables.

Then back to Abha, 3 hours drive. The season for mangoes seem to be started, as we saw few vendors on side of the road selling them. We also bought one box of mangoes, very sweet!

Back in Abha, we realized that the plastic bag containing the fish was not that hermetic...Some smelly fish juice has spread in the car boot.

Soon after arriving preparation to decorate the house for the birthday party of Leon and Marlyn, some Pilipino friends.

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2 commentaires

Martine RUEL
Martine RUEL
22 févr. 2023

Bon séjour.. Profitez bien de ces quelques jours.. Bisous à tous les trois !

Martine et Pierre

22 févr. 2023
En réponse à

Merci bien.

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